(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although she avoids strict chronology, in China Men Kingston recounts the exploits of early adventurers who left for America in the 1850s. In chapters such as "The Great Grandfather of the Sandalwood Mountains," "The Grandfather of the Sierra Nevada Mountains," and "The Making of More Americans," Kingston recounts the adventures of the various emigrant generations. Some, such as Bak Goong, got only as far as Hawaii, the Sandalwood Mountains, before becoming locked in a cycle of poverty and strenuous physical labor. Ah Goong and others spent their lives building the railroad through the Nevada mountains. It is impossible to determine whether such grandfathers and various "Uncles" are blood relatives of the author. Kingston has made their suffering and their triumphs representative of the entire Chinese-American community.

The central character of China Men is the narrator's father, whose silences and "wordless screams" fascinate the young Kingston. His "magic" was different from the women; he did not "talk-story" about his early life in China or the manner in which he came to the States. Kingston reconstructs his life story based on what she has heard about him and others, and what she imagines must have happened. The result is an engaging blend of fact and fantasy which conveys the essential, if not the literal, truth of his life. She provides five different accounts of how the "father from China" made his way past authorities to the United...

(The entire section is 307 words.)